Rock, paper, scissors– shoot! Was there ever a better rock thrower than writer’s block?
Recognizing our own creative process is a puzzle creative people piece together over time. We discover what works for us and what doesn’t. We immerse ourselves in learning the craft of writing, the rules involved, grammar or language usage, and develop strategies or habits we think assist our inspiration. I don’t sit down to my desk without a candle lit and music unobtrusively playing in the background. I change up which Pandora station I listen to. Setting up my writing ambiance is one way I get my creative juices flowing, but what happens when your creative atmosphere is on point, yet you are looking at a blank canvas or an empty sheet of paper? There is a enormous boulder of nothingness sitting between you and the message you want to communicate. You end up looking at a blinking cursor, unable to move it. Why?
In the educational social thinking movement, there is a cognitive behavioral curriculum called Superflex. Rock Brain is one of the characters created by the authors, Stephanie Madrigal and Michelle Garcia Winner. Rock Brain is used as an example for unflexible thinking traits– He doesn’t compromise, wants things “his way,” thinks there are strict rules he must follow (even ones that don’t work), and gets nothing but anger and frustration in return. Sound familiar?
When you develop what you perceive as writer’s block, are you being a rock brain? Do you get stuck and immovable in your writing practice? Whether writer’s block or artist’s block, this impasse can be surmounted with alternative strategies. Writer’s learn about brainstorming, clustering, journal writing, free writing to alleviate writer’s block. These strategies work, but not all the time. These methods of eradicating the dense slab between writers and their muse all involve the primary difficulty that the writer is experiencing: writing.
This is when you should throw paper over that rock. Paper beats rock for a reason.
Cover that rock with a mantle of other mediums that inspire you. In Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott proposed the idea that instead of being blocked, we may need to fill ourselves up. We are chugging along the road of creativity, and when we run out of gas, we often bang on our vehicle exclaiming that it is broken or clogged, when all we simply need is to refill our source of creative energy. We are empty.
I’m a visual person, moved by paintings, sculptures, photographs, movies. Visuals prompt words when I can’t find them within, words prompt my own mental images, which then lead to breakthroughs and inspiration. Step away from your regular medium, be it writing, music, visual arts, and do something that recharges you, that leaves you feeling refreshed and inspired. Blow off steam by immersing yourself in silliness, exercise, or simply make a Pinterest board for your current project rather than approaching it with words first. If you are a painter, write down in words what you are hoping to convey in your piece. Switch that medium up, turn it around, look at it from a different vantage point.
Relieve the pressure to force creation by doing something fun and mindless. Pick up that guitar, shower, throw on a holiday movie, light candles, re-read a passage of your previous efforts that you are proud of, go to a coffee house, call a friend over for a lunch of homemade pizza and wine, sit alone and stare out the window at your favorite view.
One caveat: Be sure you are using these strategies for inspiration, and not as a distraction. There is a huge difference between filling your empty tank and distracting yourself from work— the work you already have plenty of inspiration to do. That is resistance to the work necessary, not writer’s block.
When you find you are resisting doing the work, it’s time to throw down scissors.
Cut out distractions, snip your own laziness, and shear negative forces from your environment. All of these vices are frenemies to your creativity. They are pretenders, claiming to understand your process and are oh-so inviting with their diversions, but the entire time they are stabbing you in the back. Most likely with those scissors they want to keep from you. Pry those scissors from their hands and take control of your craft, including the time you dedicate to it. Commit, show up, sit down, and do the work.
For writers that have managed to take the first cut, but worry about maintaining commitment, there are online programs that help remove distractions. Stop Procrastinating has options for choosing how long you want to disconnect from the internet and only allows reconnecting after rebooting your computer— a pain in the ass that is a major deterrent in itself. If that wouldn’t stop you in your dedication to being distracted, then there is a selection that won’t allow access for a predetermined time even if you try to reboot. If you are blessed with some self control and don’t require either of those two options, you can simply limit access to certain websites (think Twitter, Facebook, email). This is a good option if you are working but require search engines to be available. Freedom and Anti-Social are other programs/apps that limit access to online content. Research what system works best for you.
Me? Get distracted? Nah…
Okay, I do get sidetracked on the internet at times, especially when I Google information and end up researching a topic that has nothing to do with my original quest. A prime example: I was researching railway occupations in Ireland circa 1920 and somehow ended up combing the 1901 Belfast census looking up my great-grandparents. Those are the types of distractions I encounter, not social media. I don’t require certain sites be blocked. I do write in a program called Scrivener that offers a less visually diverting Composition Mode (think not having folders, menus, and buttons surrounding your writing) that I’ve used once or twice, but that is the extent of my self-imposed limitations.
I’m more apt to have trouble resisting the homemade pizza while drinking wine with the neighbors type of distractions. I don’t think there’s an app for that.